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6 things to know as Wisconsin volleyball seeks fourth straight Big Ten title

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The red-hot University of Wisconsin volleyball team is taking a 16-match winning streak into a pair of top-10 matches on its final road trip of the regular season. With it can come a fourth straight Big Ten championship.

Here are six things Badgers fans should know before No. 3 UW (23-3, 17-1 Big Ten) faces No. 5 Nebraska (24-3, 16-2) on Friday night and No. 8 Ohio State (19-7, 15-3) Saturday night.

1. Staying put again

The UW volleyball team extended it's winning streak last week with a sweep at Rutgers before outlasting 14th-ranked Penn State in the final set on the road, but the Badgers' efforts weren't rewarded when the latest rankings were released Monday afternoon. After spending three weeks at No. 3 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association rankings, the Badgers came in at third in the latest coaches poll. The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, jumped three spots to No. 11 after beating No. 9 Minnesota and falling at home to UW. The Badgers have a pair of top-10 battles looming this week after the Cornhuskers moved up one spot to No. 5 and the Buckeyes slipping from No. 5 to No. 8. 

2. Follow along from home

The matches on Friday and Saturday are being broadcast on the Big Ten Network, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday. Fans in the Madison area can listen to the action on the radio Friday on 100.9 FM and Saturday on 1070 AM.

3. How sweep it is

In their first match last week, the Badgers faced a struggling Scarlet Knights squad for the second time in the span of a week. Despite the change in venue, the results were much the same. Just like the teams' first meeting of the season, a UW sweep Nov. 11 at the UW Field House, it was all Badgers from start to finish. 

The 25-13, 26-24, 25-10 sweep Friday night at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey, along with a loss by Ohio State at Maryland, gave UW sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. Sophomore Julia Orzol had five blocks along with 13 kills to lead the attack for the Badgers, who were down to only one setter because junior MJ Hammill was sidelined because of illness.

4. Escaping the Lions' den

Things didn't go quite so smoothly the following night for UW, with a 14th-ranked Penn State team ready to go the distance. But the Badgers overcame their past struggles in State College to outlast the Nittany Lions 25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 18-25, 15-12 for just their third victory in 27 matches at Rec Hall.

Junior Devyn Robinson had 17 kills and nine blocks and grad student Danielle Hart had 13 kills and eight blocks to lead the Badgers against a tough opponent that impressed coach Kelly Sheffield with its growth this season.

“It was a great college volleyball match,”  Sheffield said after the Badgers beat the Nittany Lions for a second time this year. “I thought both teams were really scrapping, both teams were making really big time plays. Penn State has really developed as the season has gone on."

5. Shucking the Huskers

The Cornhuskers are currently ranked fifth in the nation, but when it comes to facing the Badgers, they're in the midst of a five-year drought. Entering the teams' second meeting this season — after UW's sweep of then-No. 1 Nebraska Oct. 26 at a sold-out UW Field House — the Badgers are on a nine-match winning streak against the Cornhuskers.

While Friday's match doesn't carry the weight that the teams' thrilling five-set championship bout did last December, there is still plenty to play for as the regular season nears the end. The Badgers can clinch at least a tie for the conference title with one win in their final two matches next weekend at Nebraska and Ohio State.

6. Closing call

In their final match of the regular season, the Badgers will face off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Meeting for the first time this season, the Badgers look to finish strong while the Buckeyes are trying to get back on track before the postseason after a loss at Maryland and at home to Indiana led to a three-spot drop in the rankings for Ohio State. 

The last time the teams met, during the 2021 regular season, UW came out on top in a 26-24, 25-22, 25-18, 25-14 win in front of a sold-out crowd Oct. 22, 2021, at the UW Field House.  

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